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Large trucks, including 18-wheelers, box trucks, and other commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds are involved in accidents that claim thousands of lives in the United States every year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 4,796 fatal crashes involving large trucks in 2020, resulting in 5,005 deaths. This represents over 10% of all traffic fatalities annually.

Not only are the sheer numbers of truck accident deaths troubling, but the severity and costs associated with them are devastating for families and communities. Truck crashes are more likely to be severe simply due to the massive size and weight differential with passenger vehicles. And when catastrophic crashes occur, medical bills, lost income, and legal proceedings can burden victims for years.

This article provides key statistics that highlight the scope and nature of the problem. It also suggests priority action areas like better training, oversight and roadway improvements to prevent these tragic losses.

Truck Accident Fatality Statistics

The number of fatal truck crashes has risen substantially over the last decade. In 2011 there were 3,00647 truck accident deaths which has increased by over 45% to the 2020 figure of 5,005 according to NHTSA. Even as total driving declined during COVID lockdowns, the fatality rate per miles driven rose indicating an even greater risk exposure.

About 16% of those who died in truck crashes were the truck occupants themselves in 2020 while 67% were occupants of other vehicles. This implies vulnerability for truck drivers as well but a significantly heightened risk for passenger vehicle occupants based on the physics of larger vehicle impacts.

Single truck crashes accounted for just 9% of the fatal crashes so the vast majority involved impacts with other motorists. This points to better defensive truck driving techniques as well as public awareness about maintaining safe distances from large trucks as prevention opportunities.

When and Where Truck Accidents Happen

Time of day data indicates the early morning hours between 6am to 9am as well as late afternoon between 3pm to 6pm as periods of heightened truck crash fatality risk. These correlate with standard rush hour commuting patterns when traffic density is higher.

Weekends only account for 20% of fatal truck crashes indicating the predominance of weekday occurrences again likely related to greater exposure from work-related driving trips during the normal workweek.

In terms of location, over 55% of deadly truck crashes occurred in rural areas compared to 45% in urban settings. This likely reflects the longer travel distances and higher speeds for trucks on interstate highways and remote roads. The top five states for rural truck crash deaths are Texas, California, Florida, Georgia and Ohio.

Weather also plays a role in approximately 23% of fatal truck crashes with rain, snow or ice reported. Seasonally, winter sees the highest rate during December through February.

Common Causes of Fatal Truck Crashes

While the unique dynamics of each crash ultimately lead to loss of life, data from the Large Truck Crash Causation Study identifies the most frequent factors. Vehicle speeding over posted limits or unsafe for conditions was a contributor in 23% of fatal crashes. Failure to keep in proper lane, drinking while intoxicated and distraction from cell phone use all play a role in between 7 to 10% of deadly crashes.

Mechanical defects like brake failure, balding tires and cargo load shifting are also major issues especially as trucks accumulate higher mileage. Tire blowouts for example caused 3.6% of fatal truck crashes. Loss of control incidents like jackknifing or rollovers accounted for 7.6% of deaths and these events are extremely hazardous given the trailer gross weights of up to 80,000 pounds.

Driver Negligence Contributes to Truck Crash Deaths

Driver error is listed as a related factor in 88% of truck crashes. This includes recognizing hazardous scenarios and responding appropriately to avoid collisions. Truck drivers sometimes fail to account for the longer stopping distances required or misjudge the room needed for turning maneuvers.

In terms of individual companies, the 5 with the highest fatal truck crash rates based on vehicle miles traveled are Kindcarta, US Auto Logistics, CRST Expedited, Western Express and DART Transit. These underscore the importance of driver screening, training and monitoring processes.

Some companies also prioritize efficiency over compliance with Federal work hour limits leading to fatigued operations. Approximately 4% of deadly crashes involve regulatory violations that compromise public safety. More robust enforcement of standards coupled with technologies like electronic logging devices improves oversight.

Differences in Truck vs Car Crash Consequences

The extreme mismatch in size and weight between full size trucks and regular passenger vehicles results in trucks literally demolishing cars in high speed collisions. Trucks on average weigh 20 to 30 times as much as typical family cars. This generates incredible uncontrolled kinetic energy and momentum transfer during crashes that easily exceeds the structural integrity of regular vehicles.

Occupants then suffer severe trauma from extreme impact forces as vehicles are crushed or ejected altogether in rollovers. Only 16% of car occupants wearing seatbelts survive truck impacts over 43 mph. Unrestrained truck drivers themselves get thrown about their cabins or through windshields sustaining serious to fatal injuries in 60% of crashes.

Costs of Fatal Truck Crashes

Besides the profound emotional costs from losing loved ones, there are tremendous financial effects from truck accident deaths at broader societal and individual family levels.

The average combined medical, lost workplace productivity and congestion costs alone for a single truck fatality add up to nearly $6 million. The total for all truck-related crash deaths nationally approaches $30 billion annually. Add legal, property damage and rehabilitation expenses claims and this figure multiplies even further.

For families who lose the primary wage earner or experience chronic medical needs, the strain can be desperate leading to bankruptcy in many cases. Even with settlement awards, no amount of money can ever compensate for losing someone forever.

Preventing Truck Accident Deaths

All relevant stakeholders must jointly address the root causes of fatal truck crashes through a combination of enhanced driver training, improved regulation and oversight as well as upgrading roadway safety features.

For example, advanced simulations and skills evaluation focused on hazard perception, night driving, load management and skid control would better prepare truckers. Wider adoption of event recording cameras along with e-logging audits improves carrier compliance monitoring. Incorporating side under-ride guards and stronger rear trailer impact protection saves lives in collisions.

Perhaps most impactful to altering industry norms is society demanding corporate responsibility from trucking companies, manufacturers, shippers and insurers to value safety foremost over profits or convenience. A β€˜zero truck crash fatalities’ unified vision across public, private and government sectors aligned with data-driven, safety-first policies in action is the necessary North Star to guide meaningful progress.

Conclusion

In essence, the widespread toll of truck crash deaths and injuries evident from the statistics above showcase a preventable public health crisis unfolding on US roads daily that we cannot afford to accept as status quo. With long-haul freight transport demand projected to substantially grow for the foreseeable future, it is imperative that transformational steps be prioritized now by forward-thinking leaders across transportation agencies, law enforcement, trucking firms, labor groups and crash victim advocates.

Technologies already exist to avoid 80-90% of crashes through intelligent automation and connectivity. Comprehensive industry reforms doubling down on safety have proven successful in aviation, rail and maritime transport. Ultimately, when it is your loved one that does not come home one evening simply due to a truck driver’s negligence or an avoidable mechanical failure, we hope that collective responsibility and action provides some comfort amid the intense grief.

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